His Dark Materials takes us to our Oxford in “The Cave,” which one could assume is titled in reference both to the computer of that name in the episode and Plato’s Cave. If you’re not familiar with that one, Wikipedia breaks it down thusly:
In the allegory, Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality but are not accurate representations of the real world. Three higher levels exist: the natural sciences; mathematics, geometry, and deductive logic; and the theory of forms.
Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all. A philosopher aims to understand and perceive the higher levels of reality. However, the other inmates of the cave do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
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Lyra (Dafne Keen) convinces Will (Amir Wilson) to take her to his Oxford, despite his concerns for his personal safety. She’s able to sway him successfully because a trip home means he can check on his mum (Nina Sosanya), whom he left in the care of Mr. Hanway (Ray Fearon).
Once they pass through the hole in the air that leads to Will’s world, Lyra is a bit disoriented by the differences between this Oxford and the one she knows. She’s immediately hit by a fast-moving car, something they don’t have in her world. And when they get to the university, she’s crestfallen to see that Jordan College is missing altogether from this world.
While Will goes off to check on his mum (she’s fine), Lyra explores an exhibit on The North at Oxford. She turns to the alethiometer, which tells her to look for answers behind a door with a mountain on it. She also meets a man who passes himself off as a stranger and a resident of this world- it’s Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare), and he knows exactly who she is.
Lyra and Pantalaimon (voice of Kit Connor) find the door with the mountain, and behind it is a physicist (and former nun) called Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), who specializes in the study of dark matter. The alethiometer and Pan have instructed Lyra to be honest with the scholar she finds, so she rambles out a disjointed version of her story to the Dr., and, because it’s fiction, Mary Malone is like, “Sure, weird kid. I’ll take you to see my multi-million £ computer.”
Mary has a supercomputer called “The Cave.” She tells Lyra that she uses it to observe dark matter, and that the only time she’s witnessed any reaction on the screen that tracks the matter’s movement was when she had her I Ching box with her and cleared her mind. Lyra quickly deduces that dark matter and dust are the same thing and easily convinces the adult physicist to connect her to The Cave so she can talk directly to the dust.
The dust reacts to Lyra immediately, and the screen starts displaying symbols from the alethiometer that give Lyra information about what she’s to do. Mary’s box is special, and Lyra and Will need to find Will’s father.
Will, meanwhile, tries to access the trust his father left for him and his mom, and through a visit to the bank discovers that his paternal grandparents are alive and living in Oxford. He’s never heard of them before, but he goes to visit them to ask for authorization to access the money. They are WASPs, and as soon as he mentions the money, his granddad (Brian Protheroe) calls the cop (Boreal’s man) who has prepared them for the possibility of Will turning up and convinced them to call if it happens. Will figures out that he isn’t safe there and runs to the botanical gardens to meet Lyra as they’d planned.
Lyra is late to their meeting, but her tardiness is offset by the news that Will’s dad is alive and that they have a mission from the dust to go find him.
Back in Lyra’s world, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) has succeeded in helping Father MacPhail (Will Keen) ascend to the pinnacle of the Magisterium with her tip about sending airships to burn out the witches in their home islands. As soon as he’s in full power, with only her knowing how he got there, she walks out to pursue her own interests- likely Lyra and the paths between worlds.
Boreal makes an appearance to ask how her daughter is doing after seeing Lyra in the other Oxford, but it doesn’t seem like Mrs. Coulter picks up what he’s putting down. She does, however, glean that Lyra has left their world when she visits Thorold (Gary Lewis) in prison and learns that Lyra was there when Asriel (James McAvoy) killed Roger and walked through the opening he created.
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